Introducing a New Horse to the Herd

Posted in: Featured, Horse Care, Uncategorized

How do you go about introducing a new horse to the herd? I spend a lot of time watching how my horses interact with each other. Often I have a horse in the group that I know is assertive, but not mean.  Or one that is great about protecting the youngsters.  I also have ones that are down right aggressive to any horse in their way.  Most horses are excellent about knowing what they are up against if they are used to being in a herd.

There are several variables that come into play, and I think for the most part the horses eventually all work it out in the end.  But no matter how I do it, I always get a bit of anxiety over it all!

I have five things that I do every time we are introducing a new horse to the herd.

1. Make sure they are over the fence from each other for a few days.

2. Make sure the area of introduction is a large one. It’s not fair to the new guy if there is no room to run away.

3. Never introduce them on a weekend, or evening. If it all goes South I want to avoid an emergency charge from my vet, and doctoring and fixing fence in the dark is no fun!

4.  Never introduce them at feeding time.  Most horses are more aggressive and amped up at this time as it is.

5. Don’t introduce a new horse that is wearing shoes.  It’s almost a guarantee that someone will get kicked in the process, so shoes can make things very dangerous.

Here are a few different scenarios and how I’ve handled them, all while keeping the above mentioned in mind.

Introducing a dominate horse.

I’ve had super confident dominate horses introduced to the heard, and they don’t put up with bullying.   That intro is usually pretty easy. The other horses know this new one is a boss, just by his/her demeanor, so they know they won’t get away with much of anything.   On the flip side, I may already have a majorly dominate horse in the herd, and I know that these two will fight to figure out who the top horse is.  In this case there a couple different things I’ve done.

1. I’ll take out that dominate horse and let the new horse get accustomed to the herd. Once they all calm down (this may be a day or two), I’ll let the old boss back into the group.

2. I’ll put both of the dominate horses in a pasture, just the two of them.  They work things out, usually very quickly with no ownership of the herd.  After I see those two getting along (for the most part), I’ll put them back into the herd together.

Both actions eliminate the tension of figuring out the boss and the entire herd all at once.

Introducing the young horse.

I like to take a kind horse from the herd and put him in with this youngster.  This gives him/her a buddy, and one less of the crew that will run him around. They may be together for a week or so before I put them in the herd together. It’s always surprising how one friend that’s been there, can make all the difference in the world.

Babies or youngsters will give the older horses a sign that they have no intention of fighting for the top spot.  They open and close their mouth as if chewing on a big piece of bubble gum and usually have their tail tucked between their legs.  Most horses recognize this and give them a break, but some times my younger horses in the herd (that aren’t at the top) take this as a moment to prove their position.  That’s when it’s nice to have the gentle older horse (this may even be the boss of the herd) buddied with this newcomer.  I’ve seen that horse protect the youngsters when needed.

Introducing a horse with no herd experience.

To me this is the strangest of all introductions. We recently took in a friend’s horse for calving season. He had lived with their cows, and up until recently he had 2 very old horses with him as well.  I used all of my above mentioned precautions, and when I put him in a with a group of pretty easy going geldings I thought he’d be fine.  They didn’t pick on him too much, and he really didn’t act too threatened by them.  However, he made no effort at all to try to be with them. He didn’t even make his way to the round bale to eat, even when the others weren’t at it.  He didn’t even try to fit in. It was almost like he was depressed. He paced the fence, and didn’t eat for days.   I was just about to call his owners, when finally I notice him making an effort to go eat. Now he’s one of the boys, but I’ve never seen a horse not try or want to be in the herd. I chalked it up to him being completely out of his element.

One more thing that I have had work great for me, is hauling the new horse with others.  There is something about a good road trip, and being stalled and tied to a trailer with complete strangers that makes them bond like no other!

Eventually it all works out. Hopefully, some of my methods will help you to keep the process as smooth as possible. Do you have any tips you’d like to add? I know I’d love to hear them, and they may save me an ulcer or two!

Posted in: Featured, Horse Care, Uncategorized


About Jessie Salter

Horses have been a part of my life since I can remember. Riding with my Dad as a youngster was what I lived for. There was nothing better than working cows, or racing my dad across an alfalfa field. It seems I never grew out...

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